Walt Sauther was born April 21, 1924, in Antelope, N.D., one of 13 brothers and sisters. The family moved to Billings at an early age and settled on the south side of town. Dad was always a “people” person, so it was no surprise that his first job was that of a paperboy and delivering telegrams — often singing — for Western Union and often to what was then called the “red light” district.
In his early 20s, Dad got the wandering bug and first moved to Seattle to work for the war department. From there it was on to California where he worked for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. The California lifestyle suited him well, but after a few years, the tug of family brought him back to Billings for what he thought would be a short stay. The short stay turned out to last a little longer and it was at this time he met his future wife, Betty Joan Starr. She was a pretty girl, loved to dance and even laughed at his jokes. It didn’t hurt that Dad looked like he could be a member of the “Rat Pack.” Dad’s sister, Lorraine, was getting married to Raymond Duke and Dad suggested to his little sister that he and Betty join their wedding party — and they did! There might not be too many double wedding ceremonies, but nobody said Dad was a romantic!
Dad became a family man and took to it like a fish in water. He still played hard, but he worked hard as well. He liked being a father and most weekends were spent camping and fishing and seeing the sights of Montana. As kids, we loved it — mother survived it.
He was a talented man. When he wasn’t improving his home, he was building things. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. He was so proud of the mahogany boat he built and thrilled us kids with a gasoline-powered go-kart. In the winter, he would take the hood of an old car, pad it down and fill it with neighborhood kids as he pulled this giant sled over the snowy fields behind our house. At Christmas, he sawed and painted and surprised us with Santa, a sleigh and reindeer for the top of the house. He had an ongoing competition with our neighbor Chuck Peterson as to who could put up the most interesting holiday light display. If something was broken, he fixed it, and if he didn’t know how, he taught himself.
He loved the 4th of July and our yard hosted many fireworks displays. Up until the day he died, he still had a few firecrackers on his dresser — just in case! Halloween was one of his favorite holidays; he wore a costume, handed out the candy and went from neighbor to neighbor for a grown-up treat.
He created magic for us out of the most simple moments. He loved the outdoors, respected wildlife and was a soft touch for any stray that found its way to our house. These gifts he passed on to his three children.
As we were growing up, Dad was traveling quite a bit, first for Fred Briggs, then Great Falls Select and finally as a brewery rep for Blitz Weinhard out of Portland. Even so, he rarely missed any event that his kids were participating in. Life wasn’t always easy, but together he and Mom always made us feel that we were safe, loved and provided for. He spent many nights worried, but we didn’t.
A short stint in Glendive to build his father-in-law a garage turned into an eight-year stay, working as an oil foreman for LP Anderson. He loved this job and they loved him. Wherever Dad went, he made friends and was always known as good man and hard worker.
But he missed home. So home again he came. Together with our mother, he sent us off to college, remodeled our homes and welcomed grandchildren into our lives. He celebrated our successes in life and grieved our losses. Our pain was his pain. There was never a single time that he wasn’t there when we needed him — he fixed leaky faucets and helped heal broken hearts.
He was thankful for the good neighbors he had and never wanted to move away from his little house in the “neighborhood.” He loved spending time with his siblings and their families and felt so special when he was visited by his nieces and nephews.
There was never a prouder Grandpa or Great-Grandpa. His grandsons fussed over him and he loved it. In turn, he rarely (even in poor health) missed one of their events, even if it meant watching a football game in tennis shoes at minus 10 degrees or in 100-degree weather. He wanted to be there.
He made each of his children feel like they were his favorite. He found a quality that was unique to each of us and he embraced it and let us know that we were special. He also embraced our spouses and they became additional sons and daughters to him. There was no more special moment than when he held his great granddaughter for the first time. Visits from Ryan and Mindy’s daughter Cali became highlights in his week. Cali visited him the day he died and we all know that she was the little angel that helped him to pass comfortably.
Dad always talked about the many blessings in his life — he loved his sisters and brothers and their children, thought he had the best neighbors and truly believed that it didn’t get any better than his children and grandchildren. Even so, it was his wife, our mother, who was the center of his life.
Dad adored our mom and told us often how lucky he was to have found her and what an amazing job she did taking care of him. Mom was his rock and we all know that it was her care and his love for all of us that kept him here these past 2-½ years. Dad might not have had much of a heart left, but he had heart and he credited our mother for this. Our mother and father have taught us what real love and devotion is all about and we are so grateful.
As the children of Walt Sauther, we want to say a special thank-you to the pulmonary rehab nurses: Chris, Lena and Kelly. You made him excited about Tuesdays and Thursdays and proud of what he accomplished there; you made him feel like a superstar. We are grateful to Dr. Gall, Dr. Merchant and Dr. Dudczak for hanging in there with Dad and encouraging him and us. You greatly improved the quality of his life. And Mom — how do we thank you? Because of you, we were able to have a long good-bye.
Dad is survived by his loving wife, Betty (Starr), oldest son Jerry, daughter Shelley and son-in-law (his buddy) Randy, son Jack and his loving wife, Diana, grandson Ryan and wife, Mindy, and their daughter Cali, and grandson Tyler. Ryan and Tyler — your grandpa was so proud of you.
He is also survived by his sister Lorraine and brother-in-law Ray Duke, his brother Victor and sister-in-law Kathy, his brother Arnold and sister-in-law Diane, and sister Bernice Toldness as well as many loving nieces and nephews.
He joins in passing his “daughter” Sharon (Jerry’s wife) and grandson Derek, who has been waiting a long time to go fishing again with Grandpa.
Catch a big one Pops — we’ll be seeing you soon.
Visitation will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Michelotti-Sawyers Mortuary. Memorial services will be held 3 p.m. Friday at Grace United Methodist Church. Private interment services will take place at Yellowstone Valley Memorial Park prior to the memorial service.
Remembrances may be shared with the family by visiting www.michelottisawyers.com.